Following Carrie (1976), we decided to keep things going with another “period” piece, Ginger Snaps (2000).
This was another film that radicalized me in high school. In fact, it radicalized me so much, that I actually wrote a review of Ginger Snaps when I was a Junior and one of five people in the school newspaper. My review of the movie was deleted before it saw the light of day, and I had to go talk to the dean about the nature and content of the film/article.
Try and censor me this time!
TW: Blood, Body dysmorphia
Moody, teenage sisters, Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald share a unique fascination with all things macabre and ghoulish. While they’re a year apart, the two do everything together. Everything! Brigitte even skipped a grade so they could stay together. I mean, these two do everything. For example, the sisters have a cute little pact they made as kids: “out by sixteen, or dead on the scene, either way, together forever,” It even rhymes.
These two teens long for more than what their quaint, little, Canadian, suburb has to offer. Or so they thought.
Someone, or rather, something, known as the Beast of Bailey Downs, has been terrorizing the neighborhood dogs. By terrorizing, I mean eating. One night, to get back at the high school mean girl, Trina, Ginger and Brigitte decide to kidnap Trina’s dog and make it look like the Beast did it. But while they’re out and about, on their way to exact righteous vengeance, something terrible happens. Ginger…how do I say this without upsetting anyone?
Ginger gets her period.
The very second Ginger “becomes a woman”, she and her sister are attacked by what can only be the Beast of Bailey Downs. Isn’t that perfect timing? I mean, my first period felt like I had been attacked by a wild animal too, am I right?!
The two survive, but following the attack, Brigitte starts to notice some strange changes with her sister. Ginger starts growing hair everywhere, and she’s moodier than usual, and she develops a very, healthy appetite. Is it hormones? PMS? Lycanthropy? Brigitte has to figure out what’s wrong with her sister and save her before it’s too late.
Ginger Snaps is the end all, be all werewolf movies. There hasn’t been a better werewolf movie before or since; besides, of course, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004) and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004). “But Grace!” you cry, “What about An American Werewolf in London?”. What about it! It’s great too, I just think Ginger Snaps is better.
Allow me to explain.
Firstly, and this is sort of a silly reason, but it’s a fun one. Ginger Snaps is a good ol’ fashioned Halloween movie. By which I mean, a movie that actually takes place during October with the climax set against a full Harvest moon on Halloween, at the high school Halloween dance. It’s not just a horror movie, not just a monster movie. It’s a Halloween movie! It’s a nice treat. I’m a sucker for a good Halloween movie. That probably has something to do with all the Disney channel original Halloween movies I watch.
Secondly, everyone can relate! We all know what it’s like to be an outcast in some way, especially in high school. But speaking from my own experience, as a teenage girl, you never really feel like you fit in, and this movie does a wonderful job of exploring that feeling through Ginger and Brigitte. We’re all aware, to some degree, the societal pressures placed on teenage girls to look, act, dress, and behave a certain way. It’s always refreshing to see teen girls actively rebelling against that as best as they can. Ginger and Brigitte are outcasts. Some of that could be self-imposed as Ginger even mentions that the two “kill themselves to be different,” but that’s alright. At the end of the day, they aren’t outcasts if they’re together, right? Two people are never really alone. Which is why it’s so sad to watch as Ginger goes through some very drastic changes on her own while Brigitte struggles to help her sister.
Lastly, this film is a prime example of my favorite horror sub-genre, female body horror. Some of you might be familiar with “body horror” in general, more recently, the reboot of the It (2017) franchise is a good example of “body horror”. Pennywise contorts and morphs his body and facial features into frightening and disturbing shapes and postures. The body is presented in an unsettling and unfamiliar way, thereby disorienting the viewer. We fear the unknown, and when presented with a body, that has all the markers of a body, distorted and disordered, we’re frightened. Female body horror builds upon this feeling of distortion and the unfamiliar.
Female body horror as a whole is a powerfully evocative, and transgressive horror sub genre. As the female body is so mutable and mystifying, female body horror builds upon the theory of the abject, which disturbs “identity, system, and order”, we fear what we don’t know or recognize, and what we can’t control.
Ginger’s menstruation is the first example of abjection, or an abject body. A more “disgusting” aspect of womanhood is displayed uncensored: “the abject body leaks wastes and fluids in violation of the desire and hope for the ‘clean and proper’ body, thus making the boundaries and limitations of selfhood ambiguous, and indicating our physical wasting and ultimate death.” Menstruation is already taboo in polite society, and Ginger and Brigitte are both a few years late starting. Ginger and Brigitte have yet to become women, and are unable to “participate” in womanhood. However, neither of them seem too eager to enter into “womanhood”. Being late to puberty and menstruation marks them as different, and outsiders. They are “other”, neither girls nor women.
“Kill yourself to be different, and your own body betrays you,” Ginger laments her changing body immediately before the Beast of Bailey Downs attacks. For a split second, she was like all the other girls, now a “woman”, then all of that goes away, and she becomes “other” and “abject” again now marked by the werewolf.
Now her body is completely disordered and unrecognizable, thereby disrupting Ginger’s sense of self-control over her body and her identity. “The abject body,” in this instance, Ginger’s body as it begins its month-long transformation into becoming a werewolf, “repeatedly violates its own borders”, by growing a tail, and devolving to the most basic instinct of “appetite” thereby “disrupting the wish for physical self-control and social propriety”, Ginger now has an uncontrollable lust for blood, and sex. She is abject, she is a monster, she is, “a goddamn force of nature”.
This is my number one werewolf movie with a (silver) bullet. They don’t make ’em like this anymore, folks. I hope this becomes a staple or remains an essential part of your Halloween viewing for years to come. Happy Halloween to you and all the other abject bodies out there.